Monday, September 23, 2013

Chicken and Lentils in the Crock Pot

Here's another easy crock pot recipe. I adapted it from this recipe, changing things up a bit to make things easier, because I'm really lazy.
  • About 1.5 pounds of chicken. I think we had closer to 1.7. Go as cheap as you can stand. Any meat ends up moist and delicious after 8+ hours in the crock pot. I think we used Aldi chicken breast tenders. Good meat, but you end up spending some time cutting out some veins.
  • About 8 ounces (half a bag) of brown lentils.
  • Some garlic. I used only 2-3 cloves, because I'm not a huge fan of super-garlicky flavor.
  • Chicken broth. We ended up using nearly four cups, instead of the original recipe's two cups, otherwise we couldn't cover the lentils properly. That was fine; the lentils suck up the broth like a sponge, this won't be too soupy.
  • An onion.
  • Spices: Paprika, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and coriander. A little salt and pepper can't hurt, either. I used smoked paprika because that's all we had, and it worked fine.
Prep was very easy.

First, peel the gross parts off of the onion, then slice it up into small pieces. I ended up using about two thirds of it; I was a little worried that if I used the whole thing, this would taste like nothing but onions. Line the bottom of the crock pot with the onion bits. Dice the garlic and throw it on top of that.

The Food.com recipe says put the chicken down next, then put the lentils on top. But don't do that -- that almost sank us. There wasn't enough broth to cover the lentils and that's why we ended up adding so much more broth.

Put down some spices (2 teaspoons paprika, a teaspoon each of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and coriander).

Clean the lentils. To clean them, rinse them in a strainer. Eyeball them to look for any stones or dirt or gross ones, and pull them out. Mine were fine, there was nothing to pull out. Add the lentils to the crock pot.

Clean and cut up the chicken however you want. I cut it up into big chunks, so it could move around easily when I stirred the mixture later. Throw the chicken in on top of the lentils.

Add some more spices on top of the chicken -- exactly the same amount as before (2 teaspoons paprika, a teaspoon each of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and coriander). This is about double what the Food.com recipe suggests. Other readers suggested that you do this, to make the dish less bland. It really helps.

Add in your chicken broth. Are you adding two cups, or four cups? Up to you, but make sure the lentils are well covered and that the chicken's at least a bit into the broth. Me, I'd probably cover it all with broth.

Close up the crock put, put the thing on low, and let it cook for 8-10 hours. After seven hours, we were a little worried that the lentils were underdone (because we put them on top, instead of under the chicken), so I put it up to high for the last couple of hours. I stirred it every few hours, then toward the end we'd taste a lentil or two to see how soft the lentils were.

That's all there is to it. We served ours over white rice, cooked in the rice cooker with broth instead of water. It was delicious, and it served four people amply. It could have probably served five. And this turned out to be much easier than the original recipe -- no need to brown the chicken ahead of time or use corn starch.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Salsa Chicken in the Crock Pot

I've been cooking a lot more lately, trying to slow down spending on meals out. I still shop at Dollar Tree, but I've also broadened my horizons where I can. (I'll need to do a separate post on Aldi soon!) Reddit has some great discussion boards (subreddits) on both budgeting and cooking: /r/frugal/, /r/budgetfood, and /r/slowcooking.

The Slow Cooking subreddit turned me on to Salsa Chicken. This was super easy to cook in the crock pot, and I'd highly recommend it.

All you need is:
  • A couple of chicken breasts. (I defrosted a couple of huge ones we bought at Jewel when chicken was on sale for $1.99/pound.)
  • A jar of salsa. (That would be Dollar Tree's finest $1 medium chunky salsa, thank you very much.)
  • A packet of taco seasoning. (How much? Don't remember. Probably $.79 from Family Dollar.) 
  • Peppers. (I bought a bag of little sweet peppers at Aldi for $1.49. They aren't always very good; I should have just bought a couple of big red peppers. A few of these little ones were crappy and I threw them out. The others worked out okay, though.)
  • Geen onion. (I only had dehydrated onion bits handy, so a neighbor came up with some green onions for me to chop up and add to the mix.)
  • Can of black beans. (I was worried that a whole can would be too much, but it worked out fine. I strained the beans before adding them. $1 at Dollar Tree.)
  • Can of sweet corn. (I was also worried that a whole can would be too much, but it was fine. I strained these as well. Nobody wants to drink corn juice. $.79 from Dollar Tree or Family Dollar, I forget which.)
  • Whole large tomato, diced. (I had a tomato left over from checking out the new Trader Joe's by our house. It was $.79. I actually felt TJ's produce was kind of beat up. I'm glad I checked it out, but I probably won't be buying produce there again.)
I sliced the chicken into 1/2 inch or one inch slices or so. Then I just mixed everything up in the crock pot, and made sure the chicken was mostly covered. I cooked it in the crock pot, on low, for about nine and a half hours. This came out fantastically well. You didn't even need a knife to cut the chicken. We ate this with tortilla chips.

Not counting the chips or green onions, this cost under $8 to make a huge dinner for two, with leftovers. We could have comfortably fed one or two more people. And you don't have to add peppers or seasoning. If you only have corn or beans (and not both), you could have just added one. I also didn't need to add the extra tomato, was just using up what I had around.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

iOS vs Android: Go away and leave me alone

Every week or two, I'll be at the corner bar with my iPad, and some random person will come up and want to debate me about my choice of iOS versus Android. I really am tired of debating, not primarily because the other person is typically slurring and incoherent (that's just an added bonus), but more so because the other person is usually implying that I'm stupid to "fall for the hype" by having chosen iOS. Except, here's the thing: I'm not stupid for choosing iOS, and you're not stupid for choosing Android. Use whatever you want. I could care less. Because you've asked, I'm going to tell you that, for a variety of reasons, iOS is the smartphone platform I want to use. I'm not trying to convert you or convince you that you've made a bad choice, and you need to stop doing the same thing to me.

Here's what people tend to say in these discussions.
  • Ohhh, you use Apple stuff because you like paying more? No, I like it because I find that it breaks less, and I found iOS super easy to use. Just like how I've used every computer operating system out there, from *BSD to Linux to Windows, and I've since moved to Mac because it does exactly what I need, it just works, and I don't have to mess around with drivers or viruses. Same with iOS. A friend of mine went from iOS to Android last year because she didn't want to shell out for the latest and greatest iPhone. She ended up going back to her old iPhone after a week. Too much like a computer, she said about Android. Very powerful, but not easy. I agree.
  • Ohhh, you use iOS because you like being forced into a walled garden? Look, unless you've rooted your phone and you're currently side-loading apps, then you don't know what you're talking about. Most Android phones are locked down, and the Google Play store just ain't that different than the Apple App Store. You're pushing a button to download Angry Birds, I'm pushing a button to download Angry Birds. I don't know what walls you think I have that you don't have, but unless you're truly a master hax0r, you don't actually know either. Go away.
  • Well, I've rooted my phone and installed this and this and this and I'm an elite hax0r and you're dumb. Good for you! We have something in common. I ran a jailbroken iPhone on T-Mobile for quite a long time, and I had a lot of fun hacking my various Android phones prior to that. But now, my day job focuses on designing software, so I get my "make it do what I want" fix there. I just want a cool phone that just works nowadays. Good for you're that you're still in the hacking phase. I've already moved on from it.
  • Ohhh, you use iOS because you like being locked into iTunes? Oh, you're so young. Back when I was running Android, it didn't have a music store and it didn't have a way to rent and download movies and it didn't have slick stuff like the ability to buy the new Elvis Costello album from my phone and have it automatically download to my tablet and computer. Hell, even the Netflix app came out a year earlier for iOS than for Android. It sounds like Android has caught up and now you can rent a movie to watch on the plane just like you can on iOS. I think. If so, great! Good for you! But when I was on Android, that stuff didn't exist, so I moved on -- and I'm not really seeing some compelling reason to change back.
  • Ohhh, you must hate open source, huh? Uh, no, I've been running Linux longer than you have, and that phrase "open source" doesn't apply here, not the way you think it does. Android is an ecosystem being driven very specifically by Google, and Google's not just in this for their health. Try go building an Android phone and see if you can include the Google Play store without Google's signoff. Sure, some aspects of it are more open, but mostly in that they're configurable by the carrier, which is not the same as community freedom and end user freedom. And all of these different Android phones having different front-end user interfaces, depending on the carrier or the manufacturer. I find that fragmentation of the user experience to be a pain in the ass when trying to explain to my mom how to turn on wifi or whatever. I'm happy to avoid this issue.
  • Google "does no evil" and Apple is a relentless money-grubbing monster who would kill us all if it would make their stock rise. If you believe this, you need a brain transplant. They're both huge profit-driven companies, and I don't think you can honestly say that one of them cares more about saving kittens than the other. But if you really want to push me on the social justice angle, I will point out that Apple's CEO is gay and every time some anti-LBGT fratboy calls somebody a F----T in a text message from their iPhone, they're doing it on a device from a company run by the most powerful gay man in America. (That's almost as good as Eric Allman's quote about hate speech sent via email.)
  • If you just actually tried an Android phone, you'd love it. Hey, I was using an Android phone before you even heard of it. I bought one of the first T-Mobile G1s and later I went all out and ordered a Google Nexus One. It didn't help that my Nexus One was a lemon, with an intermittent microphone issue that made the microphone stop working periodically. That made it hard to use the phone for work calls, and I couldn't get any help from Google. Compare that to when the home button stopped working out on my iPhone 5, and I walked into an Apple Store and was able to talk to a real human who was able to hand me a free replacement phone.
Again, I'm not dissing you if you want to run an Android phone. It works for you! Good on you! But stop trying to crap over my choice, just because it's different than yours. I am tired of this debate.